David O. Russell wrote (or rather, rewrote) Joy (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, 4K UltraHD) for Jennifer Lawrence, who he directed to an Academy Award in Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and an Oscar nomination in American Hustle. Lawrence score another nomination for Joy, based on the true story of Joy Mangano, the divorced single mother turned entrepreneur who invented the Miracle Mop, the first of more than 100 patents in her name. It’s an inspiring true life story and a great showcase for Lawrence, who evolves from overwhelmed mother and unappreciated foundation holding up a dysfunctional extended family to ferocious businesswoman and beloved on-air pitchwoman on the shopping network QVC to self-made mogul over the course of the film.
Also reuniting with Russell and Lawrence are Robert De Niro, who plays Joy’s blue collar father, and Bradley Cooper in a smaller role as a QVC executive with sparkling blues eyes suggests romance even as the script makes him strictly a mentor. This businessman is one of the few allies in Joy’s life. Her mother (Virginia Madsen) dropped out after being abandoned by husband De Niro to lay in bed all day watching soap operas (the same show seems to play 24-7) and her dad moves back into the family basement, where Joy’s ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez) is also camping out between gigs as an underemployed singer. They demand more attention than Joy’s own school-age children, and she juggles it all with a full-time job at an airline counter. When she comes up with the design for the Miracle Mop, which she engineers herself and has produced on a small scale, every step is beset with obstacles, from bad advice to crooked manufacturers to a disinterested QVC pitchman, which sends Joy in front of the camera to sell it herself: the working class everywoman selling the American Dream directly into homes across the country.
Russell rewrote an original script by Annie Mumolo, who co-wrote Bridesmaids, and turned it into a Russell film, with a narrative woven through with flashbacks and a dreamy narration from Joy’s grandmother (Diane Ladd), the only member of her family to encourage her apart from her ex-husband. Russell does self-defeating family dynamics, tangled in jealousy and resentment and self-interest, well but the soap opera constantly undercutting her efforts is so overwrought that it never feels authentic. The colorful mess of this family is just another anchor trying to keep her from sailing to success.
Russell manages to put his stamp on what might otherwise be a conventional biopic and Lawrence makes Joy another of Russell’s great fighters, rolling with every punch and getting back up for the next round. She earns every victory. It’s just that the story is all over the place, a mess of colliding tones and cascades of setbacks and obstacles. The flair of Russell’s filmmaking and the dynamic performances, which are turned up to 11 in far too many scenes, fail to elevate the film above the familiar trajectory of the against-all-odds success story. It works almost entirely due to the passion and drive that Lawrence brings to the screen.
DVD and Blu-ray, with the featurette “Joy, Strength and Perseverance” and the “Times Talk with Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell” interviewed by Maureen Dowd. Blu-ray features a bonus Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film.
The Club (Music Box, Blu-ray, DVD) – The four disgraced priests and one defrocked nun living in exile in a small house isolated even from neighbors in a quiet beach town in Chile are ostensibly serving penance for their sins in a life of prayer and ritual. Really they are simply pushed out of sight by the Catholic Church, which is more interested in hiding them from the public than facing up to their sins. They have a regimented schedule of prayer and song and are not allowed to communicate with the local population, so they’ve turned their free time to training a racing greyhound. It looks to be quite an idyllic existence in the opening scenes, but it’s one without any real repentance. The men live in denial and so does the church, at least until the arrival of a fifth priest upsets the balance. Father Lazcano is indignant that he’s been dumped here with these “homosexuals” until his own sins are aired when a victim reveals that he’s a pedophile. The clearly damaged Sandokan stands outside the gate and recounts how he was molested by Lazcano in explicit detail to anyone within earshot.
Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain has consistently put the legacy of Chile’s past under Pinoche under the lens in his film, from the grim Tony Manero (2008) to the hopeful No (2012). Here he shifts its gaze to the Catholic Church and its practice of kicking its dirty laundry under the bed. Now it’s in the process of closing down its “retreats” and crisis counselor Father García (Marcelo Alonso) is sent to interview the men in the wake of a startling event (best left to discover on your own) that punctures the bubble of denial. He’s as ambiguous a character as the old priests in the club, whose own sins are wrapped up in denial and defensiveness. Is he there to take confession and counsel them, to pass judgment that the church has spent decades putting off, or simply shuffle them off to the next stage of their banishment?
The Club isn’t Spotlight—there is no airing of the crimes and no catharsis of justice being served. It’s more of a chamber drama wrapped in the psychology of denial and self-delusion that isolation has simmered into a state of self-righteous martyrdom. Such justifications lead to a particularly unsettling act of violence in the third act, which quite succinctly puts Larrain’s theme about the destructive effects of burying corruption and crime in stark terms.
For a widescreen movie shot in a seaside getaway, it’s is a murky, oppressive film, a paradise smothered in a foggy shadow of moral twilight, and the drama is built on conversations and interrogations that are more about evasion and conspiratorial lies than honesty. Larrain is quite a perceptive observer of psychological states and there’s a hint of gallows humor, but it can be a difficult sit. Rewarding in its way, mind you, and beautifully acted, especially by Alfredo Castro as the defensive Father Vidal, the alpha outcast of the quartet, and Antonia Zegers as the cagey Sister Mónica, whose smiles betray no warmth or trust as she spins a fantasy of life in the retreat. But being in the such deluded, morally compromised company wearing the cloak of holy justification takes a toll.
Blu-ray and DVD, in Spanish with English, French, and Spanish subtitles, with commentary by actors Alfredo Castro and Antonia Zegers, an hour-long interview with filmmaker Pablo Larrain, ten-minute interview with Antonia Zegers, and a short excerpt from the film’s press conference at the Berlinale, plus a booklet with an essay by film critic Jessica Kiang and interviews with the cast and crew.
Also new and notable:
Independence Day: 20th Anniversary Edition (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD), Roland Emmerich’s 1996 alien invasion disaster blockbuster, arrives in time not just to celebrate the anniversary but to whet appetites for the upcoming sequel Independence Day: Resurgence, coming to theaters in June. In the original, the White House is destroyed, President Bill Pullman dons a flight suit to fight the invaders, computer geek Jeff Goldblum creates a computer virus to destroy the aliens, and hot-shot pilot Will Smith delivers it. Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, and Randy Quaid are among the rest of the brave American survivors who band together in the country’s last stand.
It’s been newly remastered for Blu-ray and DVD and includes a bonus Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film. Exclusive to the Blu-ray and Digital HD editions are the longer “Special Edition” cut prepared for home video by Emmerich (with nine minutes of added footage), also newly restored for this edition, and the original half-hour documentary “Independence Day: A Legacy Surging Forward.”
Independence Day: 20th Anniversary Attacker Edition (Fox, Blu-ray) features all the above supplements along with a booklet and a limited edition replica of the Alien Ship, a collectible for true fans of the film and a white elephant for anyone else.
Top Gun: 30th Anniversary Limited Edition Steelbook (Paramount, Blu-ray+DVD) – Maverick naval air force pilot Tom Cruise flies into the danger zone in Tony Scott’s macho adventure of hot-shot pilots. With his best friend and wingman Goose (Anthony Edwards), he plays daredevil games with Russian jet pilots and lands a spot in the Naval Air Force Top Gun program, where he proceeds to romance his gorgeous instructor (Kelly McGillis). Produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, this became a smash hit, a cultural touchstone of the era, and the best recruitment ad the Naval Air Force ever had. Val Kilmer is cool-headed rival Iceman, Meg Ryan is Goose’s wife, and Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside, John Stockwell, and Tim Robbins co-star.
This edition features both Blu-ray and DVD editions of the movie, plus a Digital HD copy, in a handsome steelbook case, which is about the same size as a standard Blu-ray case, which means it fits just fine on your shelf.
Otherwise the new edition doesn’t offer anything new to the supplements and even uses the same HD transfer of the film. It features commentary by director Tony Scott, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, co-screenwriter Jack Epps Jr., real life instructor Captain Mike Galpin, technical advisor Peter Pettigrew, and Vice-Admiral Mike McCabe, the comprehensive six-part documentary “Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun,” which runs almost two-and-a-half hours, the half-hour “Best of the Best: Inside the Real Top Gun” about the real-life training pilot training program, multi-angle storyboards with optional commentary by Tony Scott, a gallery of vintage interviews and featurettes, music videos, TV spots and trailers.
Classics and Cult:
Easy Rider (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
American Sniper: The Chris Kyle Commemorative Edition (Warner, Blu-ray)
Ted vs. Flash Gordon: The Ultimate Collection (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
A Kiss Before Dying (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
TV on disc:
Brokenwood Mysteries: Series 2 (Acorn, Blu-ray, DVD)
Airwolf: The Complete Series (Mill Creek, Blu-ray)
The Last Ship: The Complete Second Season (TNT, Blu-ray, DVD)
More new releases:
The 5th Wave (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, 4K UltraHD)
The Choice (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Remember (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Submerged (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray, DVD)
400 Days (Universal, DVD)
East Side Sushi (Sony, DVD)
Arabian Nights (2013) (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Mojin: The Lost Legend (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD)
Janis: Little Girl Blue (FilmRise, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Messenger (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray, DVD)
Die Fighting (MVD, Blu-ray, DVD)